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tell me what you see (a lover or a thief)

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In some ways John’s entire life has been nothing but a cruel series of coincidences, and so it should hardly be a surprise when Captain Flint slips into the brothel just as John is about to leave.

Max had walked him to the door after they finished discussing the logistics of retrieving the gold, so they’re both standing there when Flint enters, and it’s hard to say who of the three of them is more startled when they find themselves face to face.

“Captain Flint,” Max says, quickly shaping her face into a politely welcoming expression. “This is unexpected. May I ask what you are doing here?”

“Hoping that you’re not the only person who wouldn’t expect me to be here,” answers Flint, stepping further inside and backing deliberately into a shadow.

He looks less composed than he usually does outside of battle; some of his hair is dangling in his face, and there’s a slight sheen of sweat across his forehead, like he’s been running.

It’s a good look for him, honestly. There’s something dangerously intoxicating about him when he’s at his most raw. John wants to lick the salt from his skin.

That will never be an option, of course. Even if Flint wanted him, which he does not and never did and never will, John himself crushed any hopes just tonight, when he said there is no “we.”

He only regrets saying that a little. Certainly he enjoyed those few days of being a we, the feeling of working towards the same goal as someone else, the feeling of being viewed as part of a pair, the feeling of not being alone. But what he said was true. They were only ever together for the sake of the gold; now that he has found a different option, their alliance really should be of no relevance. It was right for him to remind Flint of that, even if it pushed him to lash out and say those cruel things to him that keep echoing in the back of his mind. It is also right for him to keep reminding himself.

But he needs to focus now, not on how Flint looks but why he looks that way, why he keeps glancing at the door.

“You’re hiding,” John realizes. “From who? What the hell happened?”

“Fucking Dufresne,” Flint growls, “And fucking Hornigold, and the rest of our fucking defectors. They tried to ambush me. I think I lost them, but I know they’re still searching for me.”

“Shit,” says John. “Do you know why?”

“They said something about turning me in to the fucking Navy.”

John frowns, but before he can try to puzzle out what that’s about, Max interrupts, saying sharply, “This is not a conversation any of us should wish to have here.” He and Flint both glance around the brothel; there aren’t many people about at this hour, but it’s true that just one person saying the wrong thing to someone else could ruin them. No one seems to have noticed them yet, but that won’t last. Max sighs. “Follow me, please.”

She guides them to a room that she tells them is almost never used, where she assures them they will have privacy for as long as they need. It’s tiny, just a bed and a small nightstand and very little space for anything else, and no window. It’s a bit restricting, but no one will be able to see them from outside and it’s got a door that locks, so it will do.

“It occurs to me,” Flint says slowly once they’re secure, “To wonder why it is that the two of you are acting as if this situation concerns all of us.”

Without missing a beat, Max smiles sweetly and says, “If there are men searching for you, who may come into my establishment brandishing weapons, I would like to know about it.”

Flint looks unmoved by her charms. “I do not believe they saw where I went. But if that was your only concern, it would have been simpler to immediately eject me from the premises, rather than agree to hide me. Unless, that is, you knew about my most recent plans and had an interest in me being able to go carry them out.” He turns to John. “What exactly were you doing here before I arrived, Silver?”

“Ah.” John exchanges a look with Max that hopefully appears less frantic than it feels. “I don’t suppose you’d believe that I was suddenly desperate for a fuck?”

“Try again.”

Admittedly, not his best lie, especially since he’s with the madame, not one of the actual whores. But it’s bought him enough seconds to compose his thoughts a bit more, and he says, “I think the three of us may have a unique opportunity to work together here.”

Max looks ready to kill him, or at least summon Bonny to do it for her, and Flint just looks exhausted. “In what way?”

“You could not go after the gold and carry out your plan to go to Charlestown at the same time. You told me that the gold was still a priority, and perhaps you even believed that, but you cannot tell me it was your top priority. How could it be? Yet you would never be able to win the decisive victory you needed over Hornigold with that gold just sitting on a beach. The news that it was gone was the most convenient turn of events that could have happened to you.”

“Where are you going with this?”

“That news was a lie.” He smiles, slow and sharp. “When I met the scouts upon their return, they told me that the Spanish guarding the beach had come down with an illness, leaving all that gold out there for the taking with virtually no defense. I pointed out that if they kept this information from the crew, I could find someone to recover the gold with a smaller crew, ensuring them, and me, larger shares.”

“You shit!”

“Keep your damn voice down,” Max hisses.

Trying to conceal his wariness – there are so many ways this can go poorly for him – John takes a step closer to Flint and says, “Max here has just agreed to find such a crew. A crew, I will mention, who Vane will definitely allow back into harbor. Now, before you start with the threats, take a moment to consider how this can benefit you. I’ve just won you the votes you needed to retain your captaincy. We can go to Charlestown, deliver the girl, get your pardons, and when we get back here, there will be five million dollars waiting for us. Everything you wanted, delivered all at once, and no one will even know you were involved in the scheming necessary to make it happen.”

“Because I can honestly say I didn’t know about it until after the deal had been done.”

“Precisely.”

“Bullshit. You had no intention of involving me in this at all until I caught you in the act. You meant to betray me, betray the crew.”

“That may be true, or maybe not. Perhaps I was genuinely trying to protect you. Or perhaps you told me I would never matter anywhere outside your crew, and I decided to prove you wrong. The distinction hardly matters, now. It’s done. Now you can decide to kill us, or report us to the crew, and take your chances dealing with your current problems on your own. Or you can acknowledge that you and I would be a hell of a lot better off as allies than as rivals, agree to go along with the cover story, and let Max help you.”

Flint stares at him, face unreadable, then shakes his head. “You brazen little bastard.”

An insult, but it’s not a rejection. It’s not even as vicious as it could be. John does not doubt that Flint is angry, but he hasn’t slammed John against a wall yet or reached for a weapon, which suggests that he’s considering the merits of his words.

John lets his smile soften: less triumphant, more charming. He sees Flint looking, sees him shifting. Of course they both know the friendliness is just another tactic – but it’s an effective one. Flint has known since the day they met exactly what John is like – a thief, a liar, someone who only cares about saving his own skin, someone who will attach himself to the agent most able to help him and jump ship the moment things change – so this newest betrayal cannot truly be a surprise. But in this moment, they’re both remembering that despite all that, Flint smiled when John said they might be friends. Despite everything, some part of Flint may have always liked some part of John, always found him entertaining and useful and worth having at his side.

Flint turns to Max and asks, “Why would you want to help me?”

“Now that I know about the gold and have seen the opportunities it presents for my partners, I would like to pursue those opportunities. I cannot do that if your crew is here to notice what is happening, and I do not think it likely that they will leave any time soon without your leadership. Therefore, I find myself invested in your safety.”

The tension in the room as Flint takes his time thinking over his options is palpable, the three of them glancing at each other as if they’re playing cards and expect someone to give away their hand.

“I was expected at the tavern,” Flint says finally. “Eleanor and Mrs. Barlow are waiting there with Abigail Ashe. I didn’t want to go there and risk them in case I was still being followed. They’ll be concerned about my absence.”

“I can speak with Eleanor,” Max offers, looking less than pleased about the prospect.

“And what about Dufresne and Hornigold?”

“I have people acting as my eyes and ears around this town. I will get messages to them to monitor the movements of your defectors while Eleanor and I determine how to handle the situation.”

He nods. “Do that.” Max raises an eyebrow and he adds, “Please.”

John hides a smirk. What an image – a woman who until recently was chained in a tent on the beach, now in a position to quietly demand respect, and one of the most feared pirate captains on the seas, scrambling to be polite. God, he likes them both so much more than is good for him.

“You will both need to stay here for however long it takes to deal with this,” Max says. “That could be hours, at least, and it will be safest for everyone if we make as little contact with you as possible during that time. Please refrain from killing each other after I leave you.”

“Understood,” John replies.

They both look to Flint expectantly, and he rolls his eyes. “I will try my best.”

“Good enough,” she says, though personally John would have preferred a more concrete promise. “Is there anything else?”

They both shake their heads, and she departs. Flint locks the door after her, the click resounding ominously.

The room was cramped when Max was with them, but somehow it feels even smaller now that it’s just the two of them.

“Did you really do this just to spite me?” Flint asks quietly.

“I rarely do anything for just one reason, Captain.”

He nods. He’s still facing the door, so John can’t really see his face, but there’s an unhappy tenseness visible in his posture. Well, that’s always there, really, but this is more distinct than usual. More targeted.

Rather than consider what it could mean for Flint to be so bothered by the idea of John’s motivations for going against him being personal, John goes over to the bed and sits down, propping some pillows against the headboard and leaning back. If they’re going to be here for a while, he may as well be comfortable.

Flint does not seem to share that mindset, opting instead to pace around as much is possible given the size of the room. In theory, this would allow him to work through whatever is stirring about in that head of his while also stretching his legs and feeling less restricted by having to stay inside. In practice, he’s only able to take a few steps at a time, making his way awkwardly around the bed. It can’t possibly be satisfying.

It also makes him loom over John in a way that makes John viscerally uncomfortable. He’s tempted to ask him to stop, but knowing he’s making him nervous would probably just encourage him to keep pacing. John sighs and tilts his head back to stare at the ceiling.

After what feels like an eternity, the mattress shifts, and he lifts his head to see Flint sitting beside him. Sort of beside him; he’s not sitting all the way back against the headboard, and one of his legs isn’t quite on the bed, so he’s angled slightly away.

“I can’t say I’m not impressed,” Flint admits softly after a moment.

“Oh?”

He smirks. “By the scouts, I mean. I wouldn’t have expected either of them to be such skilled liars.”

Frankly, John is a bit surprised too. They’ll have to wait to see if the men can continue to keep their mouths shut longer than one night. He hopes the stakes are high enough that they will. He points out, “The promise of inconceivable wealth tends to be a fairly powerful motivator.”

“True.” They sit quietly for another few minutes, and then Flint takes a breath and says, “Really, though, there aren’t many people who could have gotten away with something like this, or even thought to try.”

“I didn’t get away with it, though.”

“No, but you almost did, and it was entirely coincidence that I interrupted you. I certainly don’t wish to inflate your ego, but it’s not an insignificant achievement.”

“To be honest, Captain, I would have expected you to be a bit more upset about it. Or at the very least, a bit more reluctant to agree to work together again.”

“Would you prefer I scream at you?”

“Of course not.”

Flint shrugs. “You’re capable of conceiving of lies of this scale, and you’re capable of enlisting the people necessary to carry out your plans. Going forward, it’s clear that whatever happens, I would be foolish not to account for you.”

The door of the room next to them opens and shuts, and there’s a thud as the people who have just entered slam against the wall between the two rooms, followed by a load moan.

“I know that you could be either very useful to me or very destructive,” Flint continues in a valiant attempt to ignore the sounds from next door. The only inclination that he’s heard them at all is the way he’s lowered his voice.

John clears his throat. “So I was right that you would rather have me on your side than working against you.”

Flint takes a breath to respond, but at that moment there’s another groan just as the other person cries an only slightly muffled encouragement, and Flint and John both freeze and glance instinctively towards the wall at the realization that those definitely sound like two men.

John’s first thought is simple surprise because he hadn’t realized that there were male whores here. Granted, he hasn’t gone looking for them, and the only times he’s been in the brothel at all he’s been fairly preoccupied with something or another, but still, he would have thought he would have seen them hanging around at some point.

He looks back to Flint, and blinks, because what he sees on Flint’s face is not surprise. It’s horror. But not a disgusted kind of horror, like someone who hates the very concept of two men fucking, which would have been very disappointing to John but not entirely shocking. It’s the horror of recognition – it’s the face of a man who unexpectedly finds a deeply personal aspect of himself mirrored externally, and finds it happening in front of someone he would not have wanted as witness.

And oh, that is very interesting indeed.

“You would think anyone building a brothel would think to try for thicker walls,” he says as he tries to process this revelation.

Flint looks over at him blankly, and John raises his eyebrows and jerks his head in the direction of the other room, where the couple’s volume is steadily rising. Flint’s eyes flicker between the wall and John’s face, and there’s a flush creeping up from his neck up to his ears, faint but definitely there.

It’s remarkable – all the death and drama he’s exposed to on a daily basis, and he barely reacts at all, but put him in a room next to men having sex and he’s a fucking mess.

John stares. He can’t help it. Flint’s eyes are a bit glossy, his pupils blown wide – maybe not just horror, then. But suddenly he seems to snap back to himself and notices John’s scrutiny. John tries to school his expression back to neutrality, but it’s definitely too late; they both know that John has seen something in Flint’s reaction to their neighbors, and they both know what conclusion he has come to about it.

Before John can say anything, Flint lurches off the bed and moves away, as if headed to the door. John reaches out quickly and grabs his wrist, and he goes utterly still.

“You can’t leave,” John whispers urgently. His fingers drag along Flint’s skin as he slowly turns to face him. He can feel his racing pulse under his fingertips, and he wants to stare at that point of connection but makes himself look up instead to meet Flint’s wide eyes.

“I know,” Flint says after a tense pause. He pulls his arm out of John’s grasp and rubs his hand over his face. “I know. Shit.”

John hesitates, then says gently, “It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

Flint flinches, as if the words remind him of something, and snaps, “I know that.”

“All right. I’m telling you that I know that.”

“Oh.” If anything that makes him look more flustered. He stares at John for a long moment, gaze turned piercing and analytical, made less intimidating by the deepening blush. Then he looks away again, glancing anxiously between the wall and the door. “Well, good.”

“Captain.” He waits for him to look back at him, then says, “Sit back down.”

“You’re giving orders now?” Flint grumbles. But he does come back to the bed, and he even sits all the way back this time, so his shoulder presses against John’s.

“You’re just upset that the crew listens to me more than you.”

Flint snorts but doesn’t say anything and they fall into silence. Or, relative silence; their neighbors still seem to be thoroughly enjoying themselves.

The warmth of Flint’s body so close to him is intensely distracting. Not that there’s really anything to be distracted from – but maybe he would be paying attention to the door in case Max comes back with news or someone finds them. As things are, it’s difficult to pay attention to anything other than the fact that their upper arms and legs are touching.

There are people in the room on their other side, now – John hadn’t heard a door, but there are some distinctly sexual noises from that direction.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” mutters Flint when a woman wails in a way that John strongly suspects is exaggerated.

“I can’t say this would have been my first choice for a hiding spot,” John comments wryly.

“It was a spur of the moment decision. Now I’m wondering if I would have been better off letting Dufresne kill me.”

“Must you always be so dramatic?”

“I must.”

John laughs, and Flint’s mouth twitches into one of the rare genuine smiles that John has been privately hoarding as if they are treasures in their own right.

“I will say, though,” John acknowledges as there are moans from both of the adjacent rooms at the same moment, “I can understand why Max said that no one uses this room if they can help it.”

“It does… alter the mood, somewhat.”

That’s an understatement. If John was here for the usual reasons one goes to a brothel, hearing other people’s encounters when he should be focused on his own would be quite off-putting, and would probably tamper his arousal. In this situation, though, it’s having rather the opposite effect, by making him think about sex when he shouldn’t be, his body responding accordingly. Either way, it’s uncomfortable.

Relative silence again.

Flint’s hand is resting on his thigh, not far from John’s own leg. It occurs to John that although the bed is not especially large, it certainly has enough room that Flint should not need to sit quite so close to him, meaning that every point of contact between them must have been a choice. Maybe it’s that thought that sparks some terrible impulse that replaces all his good judgment and guides him to reach over and cover Flint’s hand with his own.

The captain shudders but miraculously does not pull away. John can’t look at him straight on, but in his peripheral vision he can see him staring disbelievingly at their hands before lifting his eyes to stare at John’s face. John isn’t sure what his expression shows. He’s not sure either of them is breathing.

Terrified, but encouraged by the lack of resistance, John dares to stroke his thumb in a slow path along the side of Flint’s hand, and Flint exhales shakily but still does not move. The air from that exhalation, soft and warm, hits John’s cheek.

With the exception of whores, John can’t remember the last time anyone was this close to him for any reason other than violence. The thought makes him want to flee, and to hell with the consequences if Dufresne and Hornigold catch him. He has always been afraid of the unfamiliar more than anything else: he can handle hunger, because he knows it; he can handle cold and heat and rain and snow, because he knows them; he can handle being threatened or beaten, because he knows how to make it stop. Tenderness – that is unfamiliar, and he does not know what to do with it. He was not particularly afraid when Flint had a knife to his throat, but now that he is pressed along his side, letting him hold his hand, just breathing, he is a more fearsome enemy than he was before, for the simple reason that he does not seem to want to be an enemy at all.

“Silver,” whispers Flint, so quiet that John feels it more than hears it.

He could mean it as a question – such as What the fuck do you think you’re doing – but it sounds more like he has something else to say, and so John just squeezes his hand slightly and waits, and tries not to listen to the couples in the adjacent rooms.

“You were unhappy about me seeing Mrs. Barlow,” Flint says eventually. “Why?”

Whatever John might have expected, that wasn’t it. “What?”

He finally turns his head to see his face – which, fuck, is very close – and Flint just raises his eyebrows as if to say, You heard me.

John shrugs, knowing Flint’s unlikely to let this go. “The discovery of that letter she sent almost ruined everything. You know that my top priority has always been obtaining that gold – I suppose I saw her as an obstacle to that aim. I was concerned that your continued partnership with her might damage the crew’s fragile confidence in you, or that she may be able to persuade you to set the Urca aside.”

Flint hums thoughtfully, then shakes his head. “That’s part of it, but that’s not it.”

“No?” John smiles incredulously. “What do you think the reason is, then?”

“That’s what I’m asking you. I’ve seen you concerned about the way I’m handling things. This was different. You’re usually very vocal about your objections. You don’t just glare at me.”

“Over the past weeks, I had thought that we were building a sort of partnership. That there was trust between us, perhaps even trust of the strongest kind. But these last few days, as you immediately returned to Mrs. Barlow and started making new plans with her and Miss Guthrie without consulting me, I realized that the Urca was no longer of value to you, and neither was I, and you might cast me aside at any moment. That was why I lied about the gold, really – I felt that you had already broken our trust, so I felt justified in doing the same.”

He can hear that he’s let his voice convey more of his hurt than he really intended, and he stares down at their hands rather than at Flint, who is regarding him with far more interest than Max had when he’d given a similar summary of his thought process to her.

Flint reads between the lines effortlessly and concludes, “You were jealous.”

“Yes,” John admits, jolted into honesty by the distracting way Flint has just knocked their knees together. “I was jealous.”

Fuck, he shouldn’t have said that. It’s one thing for Flint to know he wants something physical in this moment. That’s easy enough to explain away later – they’re in such close quarters, they don’t have anything else to do, the sounds of other people’s pleasure are assaulting them from all directions… they could both just be getting all that confused in their heads. But to imply that he has been wanting him, and that it’s about more than just attraction, more than just touch, is another matter altogether.

Although. Flint doesn’t seem particularly surprised, let alone dismayed, which suggests that he may have been baiting him into that answer. That he was testing him, gauging his interest. That he may have brought up this topic with the specific hope that John would confess to feeling some kind of attachment.

It seems outside the realm of possibility. But it also seems outside the realm of possibility that they could be sitting together in bed in a brothel, and yet here they are.

Flint withdraws his hand. John barely has time to mourn the loss, or process the fact that his own hand has fallen onto Flint’s thigh, before Flint’s hand lands on the back of his neck, fingers lightly tangling in his hair, tugging gently enough to avoid hurting but forcefully enough to send little shocks of sensation to his scalp.

He’s hard. He has been hard for some time now, but suddenly it’s more of a struggle to ignore it. A quick – and hopefully surreptitious – glance down confirms that it’s very obvious. Or it would be obvious, if Flint looked in that direction. But Flint is not looking in that direction. He’s looking – oh. He’s looking at John’s lips.

“Miranda and I have been together for over a decade,” Flint tells him, “And she is deeply important to me. That will not change. If you want to be a partner to me, you will need to come to terms with that. Fortunately for you both, I am fully capable of having more than one partner, so long as you do not start acting jilted whenever I give consideration to someone other than you or to something that was not your idea.”

“And you want that,” John breathes, as Flint continues twisting his hair around his fingers. “You want me to be your partner. In piracy and in other… activities.”

“I can’t quite understand why, since you’ve just admitted to betraying me, but yes, God help me, I do.”

John leans into his touch, at the same time cautiously sliding his hand higher up Flint’s thigh. “I want that too.”

“I need you to swear to me,” Flint says lowly, “That you are doing this because you want it, not because you think you can seduce me and use it as leverage against me.”

“I wouldn’t,” he starts, but Flint scowls at him and he confesses, “All right, I probably would, but that’s not what’s happening here, I swear. I want this, I want you.”

Flint twists his torso to face him more squarely and lifts his other hand to cup John’s cheek. “You told me very recently that all you wanted was freedom from me. Am I meant to believe that something like that could change so quickly?”

“I know something now that I didn’t know then.”

“And what’s that?”

“You don’t want to be a pirate any more than I do.” Flint’s hands still, and John explains, “I saw how it tortured you to think that people might see you as a villain, and then I saw you turn away from something you had been pursuing for months, at least, for the sake of seeking pardons. I may have been angry about that decision, but the fact remains that you and I want the same thing: we both want to secure a way out of this life. If we can help each other do that, and get some good fucks in along the way, that seems like a desirable path to pursue.”

“And after?”

After. Flint is thinking about an after? With him?

God. This is more serious than he’d thought. The hands on him seem suddenly heavier. He wants to shake them off, he wants to pull them impossibly closer. He wants to tell Flint that he doesn’t want this after all, he wants to get on with it already. He wants to back away, he wants to hold Flint and never let go of him.

He says hoarsely, “I have never been in the habit of letting myself think that far ahead.”

Flint nods slowly. Gently, ever so gently, his thumb idly traces John’s cheekbone, the touch making him feel like he’s on fire. “Fair enough,” says Flint, tipping forward so they’re only a few inches apart. “What about the now, then? What do you want right this moment?”

John’s lips fall open, but just then there’s a shout from one of the other rooms. While John and Flint have been talking, he had managed to start tuning them out, but it seems someone is nearing his climax, the volume ascending accordingly.

The sound breaks the intensity of the moment and startles them both into slightly awkward laughter. “Well,” John says dryly, “Something like that would be nice.”

“Perhaps a bit quieter,” Flint comments with a smile. “We are technically hiding, after all.”

“That’s true,” John whispers, knocking his forehead softly against Flint’s. “We’ll have to find better uses for our mouths, then.”

“Hmm. Do you have any ideas?”

“A few,” he murmurs, and then he closes the last little distance to finally press their lips together.

Flint kisses back immediately, hard and sure. When they separate to breathe, John swings himself over to straddle Flint’s lap, and Flint grunts in a way that doesn’t sound like displeasure and his hands fall to hold John’s hips. They kiss again, John clinging to Flint’s shoulders and nipping at his bottom lip and storing away the little whine that causes for future reference. Flint tugs at the bottom of his shirt until John lifts his arms so he can get it off and toss it behind him somewhere, and then those strong hands are moving all across his skin.

John needs to do his own exploration, so he pulls Flint’s shirt off too. He’s seen Flint shirtless before, of course, just last week, but staring at a man who’s unconscious and bloody isn’t exactly the same thing as this. He hadn’t felt comfortable properly appreciating the view. He appreciates it now. He takes in the areas that are more tanned than others, the freckled places, the healing bullet wound, the scars, the tattoo, the flush of arousal. And he gets to touch, now, too, and he intends to take full advantage of that privilege.

They can’t seem to stop kissing. John braces one hand on Flint’s upper arm, near the moon, and rests the other over his fast-beating heart, and gasps into Flint’s mouth as he digs his fingers into his back in a way that should hurt but doesn’t. Flint’s hands slide down, squeezing John’s ass and drawing him down even closer. Their clothed erections rub against each other and they both moan quietly at the sensation.

“You are so beautiful,” Flint sighs against his skin when he pulls away from John’s mouth to kiss the side of his neck, and John shivers.

“You too,” he babbles, extending his neck to give him more access, “Fuck, Captain, you’re incredible.”

“You can call me James,” he tells him, sounding vaguely amused.

He tries to think if he’s ever heard anyone call Flint by his first name, and comes up blank. She probably does – Miranda Barlow. For the first time, thinking about her, and her relationship with Flint – with James – doesn’t fill him with any envy whatsoever. There’s only a distant warmth, rising from the knowledge that he is now in the same category of James’s relationships as she is. That’s all he wanted, really; it was the exclusion that bothered him. He’s not so greedy as to mind sharing.

“You realize your wife and I are going to need to be properly introduced now,” he says, perhaps a bit nonsensically given the context. It’s also somewhat presumptive to think that she knows that James has inclinations towards men, or that James would be all right with her knowing about John specifically. But something about the way he spoke of her importance to him makes John think that he will not keep this from her.

James bites lightly at the skin of his collarbone, not hard enough to mark, but hard enough to make John rock his hips against him. “You’ll probably end up liking each other, and then I’ll never get any peace.”

“Crew will be fucking horrified if they catch wind of any of this,” John says absently as he reaches down to unbutton James’s trousers. “Billy might throw himself off the ship again just to avoid having to deal with us.”

James laughs, and John resolves to try to make him do that as much as possible going forward. He kisses his throat to catch the last of the vibrations, and James stares at him, mouth still open, for a long moment before smoothly flipping them so John is on his back with James’s whole body carefully pressing down on him. He can’t find it in himself to be humiliated by how turned on the maneuver makes him.

“I want to ride your cock,” James purrs into his ear. “May I?”

John’s reaction to that is an embarrassing stream of meaningless syllables that trail off into a whine when James nips at his earlobe.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” James chuckles.

“Yes.”

His whole body goes cold when James moves off of him but is immediately filled with a different kind of heat when he efficiently divests them both of trousers and they’re finally able to get a good look at each other’s fully nude bodies. God, but James is magnificent everywhere.

James leans over him, eyes glittering, and gives his achingly hard cock a few promising strokes. “Yes, this will do nicely,” he says almost casually before pulling back to investigate the drawer of the nightstand.

“You are going to kill me,” John gasps, and James gives him a sharp grin and comes back with a jar of something slick.

John grabs at him for another kiss, then watches, dazed, as he works himself open with oiled fingers, face slack with pleasure. It’s a glorious sight, and it’s obscene, it’s unspeakable. John’s cock twitches at the idea of what they’re going to do, but he finds his thoughts spiraling, replaying James’s voice – I want to ride your cock – with wonder and a hint of judgment that he wishes he could unfeel.

He’d told James that he knew that desire between men is nothing to be ashamed of, and he meant it. But he had thought that he had also unlearned those old internalized lessons about the inherent weakness of being fucked long ago. It’s just a position. Sex is sex, no matter whose cock is going where. He himself likes being fucked, and tries to believe it doesn’t make him lesser.

And yet now he can’t comprehend this reality of James Flint, one of the strongest people he’s ever met, kneeling here asking for it.

As James reaches for his cock again to slick it up, John blurts, “I can’t believe you would trust me with this.”

James stills for a second, face flashing into an unhappy expression that John doesn’t quite know how to read and regrets putting there. Then he says savagely, “I will not allow anyone to shame me for enjoying this.”

There’s a story there, John can tell, perhaps a story of a time he was shamed for this – or ashamed of it, which isn’t exactly the same thing – but he’s not going to ask for that story, at least not now. He focuses on the other implications.

“So it doesn’t matter if you trust me or not, because even if I were to spread some kind of rumor, it would have no power over you. You would just kill anyone who dared to mock you. Prove them wrong.”

“Something like that.”

It’s more complicated than that, probably. He remembers again their conversation about villainy, and mentally holds these two conversations side by side, letting a more complete image of James Flint form in his understanding. So he has been seen as weak by some, and too powerful by others; he has been made to feel ashamed of his desires by some, and he has been judged by others for seeming uncaring; his love for Mrs. Barlow is seen as profane and so would his love for a man. He will be viewed as a monster no matter what he does, and being perceived that way will never stop eating him up inside.

John won’t comment on this discovery this time, won’t repeat his assessment that it must be terrible to be Flint, although he’s even more sure now that it must be. He has a feeling that this partnership is too fragile for that right now. All he can do is take James’s hand in his and guide it the rest of the way to his cock, and grin, and say, “Well, then, James, it’s a good thing for all involved that as far as I’m concerned, the knowledge of what you look like preparing to take me inside you is mine and mine alone.”

 “I would not have predicted,” James mutters as he slicks John’s cock, “That your greediness would end up being useful.”

He kisses John to silence any retort he might have made, and then he’s positioning himself over him and sinking down onto his cock, slowly letting himself adjust to the stretch until he’s seated fully, and they both groan softly.

“God, you’re so tight,” John manages, thrusting up into the wet heat of James’s body. “You feel so good.”

James lifts most of the way off and slams back down, and John shudders and grasps his powerful thighs, not sure whether he’s trying to brace James or himself as James repeats the motion again and again, fucking himself at a relentless pace.

They don’t speak much, in part because it really is important to try to be quiet, but mostly because the sensations are just too overwhelming. It’s taking most of John’s effort to control his own breathlessness, and James seems to be having similar difficulties, panting heavily and occasionally whimpering when John hits a particularly good spot inside him.

The way James looks in this context is unreal. Eyes dark, skin gleaming with sweat, hair wild, muscles flexing, lips parted. John had thought he was intoxicating when he was being violent? This is so much better. He wants to keep staring, but his eyes involuntarily flicker closed for a second as James bends forward over his chest, presumably to get a better angle, and his cock, hot and thick and leaking, drags between their stomachs. John removes a hand from one of James’s legs to squeeze it instead around his cock, tugging him closer to the brink.

He feels himself getting close, too, something low in his body tightening, and he warns James, “I’m going to –”

“Do it,” James says, almost an order. He thinks about resisting just to preserve an illusion that he can’t be swayed so easily by that voice, but James sees it in his face and scoffs and says, “Let go, John,” and he swears and comes hard. A few more strokes to James’s cock and he follows after, spilling between them.

James rolls off of him and they lie next to each other, chests heaving. When he’s mostly regained his breath, James leans over to the nightstand to find a cloth. He cleans the come away and tosses the rag off to the side, then flops back down, turning to face John, who smiles and takes his hand.

“I’m glad this happened here,” murmurs James, interlocking their fingers.

“Yeah?” John teases as there’s a moan next door. “Listening to other people does it for you?”

“I meant somewhere with a proper bed, you shit.”

“I know you did.” He kisses his frown. “And I agree, although I certainly hope you plan to continue this after we leave here.”

“Yeah,” James says gruffly. “We’ll need to be careful, but I want that if you do.”

He does want that. More than he’s ever wanted anything, except perhaps five million dollars of gold. Not even the sex, although God knows he wants that too. But the concept that someone could want him, for more than a night or two. He can’t begin to articulate what that means to him. He just nods, and maybe his face shows something of how overcome he is, because James seems to soften, and pulls him closer. John curls around him, kisses his chest, and closes his eyes.

“We probably still have a few hours before Max and Eleanor come back,” he says sleepily. “Give me a bit and I can go again. Might as well take advantage of the bed as long as we can.”

He dozes off to the sound of James chuckling and the feeling of fingers in his hair.

 

(And when he wakes back up later, they do make very good use of their time.)